Our Approach

We engage our network in whole-college transformation using a coaching process that is constantly informed and improved by our longstanding partnerships and practice in the field.

To fuel innovation, ATD anticipates future needs and issues, leveraging knowledge through collective learning.

Most efforts to improve community college student outcomes involve relatively small innovations or changes at the margins. After more than a decade of experience, Achieving the Dream has learned that improving student success on a substantial scale requires colleges to engage in bold, holistic, sustainable institutional change. Achieving the Dream's Institutional Capacity Framework is a comprehensive approach to addressing the emerging needs of the field to improve success results for all students, especially low-income students and students of color.      


The framework has at its core seven essential capacities that must be in place for colleges to create the student-focused culture that promotes student success. Colleges must be strong in each capacity area in order to take on any large-scale interventions such as guided pathways, the Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success in Higher Education(iPASS) or the Working Students Success Network at scale.

The Institutional Capacity Assessment Tool (ICAT) is an online self-assessment that helps colleges determine their current level of capacity in each of the seven key dimensions. Offered to Achieving the Dream Network Colleges for the first time in fall 2016, the assessment is most useful when it is administered to a broad group of stakeholders, including representatives from the board of trustees, president’s cabinet, administrators, full-time and adjunct faculty, staff and student success teams. A discussion of the results with a cross-section of the college community as well as ATD Leadership and Data Coaches identifies strengths and areas in need of bolstering and generates actionable ideas.

The seven capacity areas are:

  • Leadership & Vision - The commitment and collaboration of the institution's leadership with respect to student success and the clarity of the vision for desired change.
  • Data & Technology - The institution's capacity to collect, access, analyze and use data to inform decision, and to use powerful technology to support student success.
  • Equity - The commitment, capabilities, and experiences of an institution to equitably serve low-income students, students of color and other at-risk student populations with respect to access, success, and campus climate.
  • Teaching & Learning - The commitment to engaging full-time and adjunct faculty in examinations of pedagogy, meaningful professional development, and a central role for them as change agents within the institution. Also, the college's commitment to advising, tutoring, and out-of-classroom supports as well as restructuring developmental education to facilitate student learning and success.
  • Engagement & Communication - The creation of strategic partnerships with key external stakeholders, such as K-12, universities, employers and community-based organizations and internal stakeholders across the institution to participate in the student success agenda and improvement of student outcomes.
  • Strategy & Planning - The alignment of the institution with the umbrella goal of student success and the institution's process for translating the desired future into defined goals and objectives and executing the actions to achieve them.
  • Policies & Practices - The institutional policies and practices that impact student success and the processes for examining and aligning policies and practices to remove barriers and foster student completion.

Aligning ICAT to Accreditation

The ICAT also provides colleges with additional benefits related to their accreditation cycle. The seven regional accrediting agencies have some variation in accreditation standards or criteria, but they have all adopted a cycle or process (often referred to as “closing the loop”) for colleges to use through the self-study or compliance certification process. The ICAT can provide an additional assessment tool that produces a numeric result with qualitative feedback from faculty and staff who participate in accreditation processes. Read the full publication on aligning the ICAT to accreditation here.

ATD Network colleges may access more materials by visiting ATD Connect.

Your college team can schedule a virtual demo or meeting with ATD staff to discuss specific questions by contacting ICAT@achievingthedream.org.

To read more about Achieving the Dream's Institutional Capacity Framework and Institutional Capacity Assessment Tool, click here or view the video below.



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